NORML Responds To Latest ‘Pot Shrinks The Brain’ Fears

NORML’s Deputy Director today on addressed new media claims that cannabis use can potentially shrink the brain:

[excerpt] A new study identifying minor differences in the brain imaging of habitual marijuana consumers compared to non-users may be ideal for stimulating sensational headlines (e.g., “Regular pot smokers have shrunken brains, study says,” Los Angeles Times, November 10), but tells us little in regard to whether pot poses actual health risks.

Specifically, an MRI scan revealed less gray matter in the orbital frontal cortex of pot-smoking subjects compared to those who had never used the drug. Researchers also identified increased connectivity between certain regions of the brain in regular marijuana users compared with non-users.

So precisely what do these findings tell us in regard to pot use and health? Not much. Since the study design is not longitudinal, investigators cannot determine whether these differences are caused by subject’s cannabis use, whether these differences existed prior to subjects’ ever trying cannabis, or whether these differences persist when users’ cannabis consumption ceases.

Most importantly, investigators in this study failed to determine whether any of these differences are positively associated with any measurable adverse performance outcomes, such as cognitive performance or quality of life. It may be that these cannabis users are functioning in their daily lives in a manner that is indistinguishable from controls, in which case the imaging differences may hold little if any real-world significance. (In fact, one of the paper’s authors acknowledged, “[C]hronic users appear to be doing fine.”)

Full text of NORML’s response, “Media Leaping to Extremely Faulty Conclusions from Study on the Effects of Marijuana on the Brain,” appears online here.

81 thoughts

  1. All the most sober literature on the effects of cannabis on the brain is coming from people who smoke! Changes in the brain can be related to just about anything; exercise, caffeine, sleep deprivation, and love probably all have their cognitive influences which are viewable by Magnetic Resonance Imaging. A picture is worth a 1000 words because it is an instance of time. Gray matter is something that probably constantly fluctuates in our systems to accommodate the constant flow of new experiences that we have. The “fact” that pot smokers had less gray matter seems irrelevant to whether or not they had healthy cognitive functioning. I’m sure that musicians, basketball players, computer geeks, and fisherman all have discernible features on MRI compared to non doers of those things, respectively.

  2. I took 5 or 6 of those intelligence tests you used to see on the Internet.

    I took an average and the mean, mode, and median calculated to be EXACTLY the same as my score in Kndergarden.

    I can never seem to corroborate findings like this with my own life’s experience.

    I wonder why??????

  3. They should try the brain scan thing on my brother. Images of a easy chair, a couple of cans of beer, a hot-dog covered in mustard,. a football. Wow the doctors would say, the pleasure centers in this guys brain just lit up like a Christmas tree! This is my brothers brain on football, duh.

  4. I think this is a bunch of bull shit.they are .just trying to start fear mongering again.. look at alcoholics brains if they have any left..what about the brains of perscription drug users,,,the reefer madness people are at it again …im 60 yrs old i have been smoking along time ..i still pass tests in the insurance world these tests are exstreamly hard ///as for the U.N..they need to take a leap off a mountain ..they need to mind there own buissness… sounds like a bunch of jealous kids im going to tell my mommy the usa is leagalizing weed ,,,keep up the good work norml/////

  5. Oh, you mean that feeling I have of various government agents still trying to find Osama bin Laden and Marijuana in my pants is just my brain shrinking?

    Thank God, I was starting to get worried. The government isn’t out of control, it just our brains are shrinking and we can’t tell lies from truth anymore.

    I mean, for a minute there, I almost thought that arresting million innocent people itself is a crime, but that’s just my shrunken brains trying to justify drug addiction. When you have a shrunken brain, you should let other people think for you. It is the safer option.

  6. Galileo of Galilei,

    That is because while there are dumb stoners; there are plenty of smart stoners too. There are just trying to get other people to look down on us. They are still just losers with nothing but bullshit ideals to support why they are better than us.

  7. @Brent,

    Thanks to the fact that marijuana increases intellectual and emotional development, thanks to our votes, letters to Congress and donations, thanks to advocates of science and well founded statistics like Mr. Armentano here, and thanks to cannabis, we are GAINING momentum.
    The truth is out.
    Prohibition can no longer be used to disproportionately incarcerate minorities, or to scapegoat our socioeconomic challenges. We ALL suffer from prohibition, especially that of marijuana, and we are poised to avalanche across the half-way mark of sensibly regulated legalization of international marijuana commodities on the way to 2016…

    Whether the U.N. and all the drug lords in the DOJ like it or not.

  8. Likewise, Galileo. I took my MRE (admissions exam to grad school) stoned and scored high enough to overcome a mediocre gpa to get accepted. Years later when being tested for ADHD, they had me take a bunch of cognitive functioning tests in areas of math facility, word recognition and others, and I scored in the “very superior” range in several areas, and only one area was even near average, all well above average. And I think I was stoned for most of those 🙂

  9. Marijuana expands the brain, and I’m interested on NORML’s reply from Brent.

    [Brent says: “What does NORML have to say about the UN coming in and ruining our momentum.”]

    Prohibition political ambition is a bad disease to humanity.

  10. I must admit, they are getting creative, perhaps even desperate. I’m surprised that it took them so long to come up with this one and right here at the end of the war on pot. It still doesn’t compare to my all time favorite however. “Smoking marijuana will make your baby have a small penis !” I never did learn if that applied to the girls as well.

  11. The establishment has been trying for years to find some ugly fact that has not surfaced in 5,000 years of known use.The only fact is this pathetic research would not be funded if it shown a positive side to cannabis use.

  12. After approximately 45 years of cannabis use, even if my brain has shrunk, I’m still way smarter than the average prohibitionist! 🙂

  13. It shrinks my brain;
    Causes schizophrenia;
    Make me violent;
    Gives me cancer;
    Lowers my IQ;
    Causes heart disease;
    Makes me lazy;
    and many more things …

    …. so that’s why people have used it for thousands of years ?

    Anyone peddling this pseudo science crap in the current climate is looking really stupid – it must dry up soon !

  14. People, don’t let be like me, and let this kind of drivel fill your mind with self doubts that might hold you back. And more then that don’t let some bullying ball game on the brain creep with a beer in hand, and a mouth full of hot dogs push you around. I

  15. Just my opinion but I think the only thing that shrinks are the profits Pharm-O-Matic has to report to shareholders. If cannabis did shrink the brain the government would be growing it for us.

  16. When I first starting visiting the NORML website, I remember being pleasantly surprised at the insight and intelligence displayed in the comments I see. You do see some of that obnoxious, trolling crap so common on most websites. I’ve fired off a few myself. However, more commonly we conduct ourselves with courtesy and respect here.

    Kudos to us all, NORML fans.

  17. This study states that marijuana users had higher connectivity in the OFC and forceps minor. The OFC’s function is in decision-making and the forceps minor is attached to the OFC. Therefore, wouldn’t that mean that marijuana increases the users ability to make-decisions? Or make them think more about the decisions they make?

  18. First prove that the brain is a story telling data processor. Then I’ll listen to how my mind, which you say fits in that small box, should think its volume is important.

  19. Not yet sufficiently studied:

    whether brain changes or psychoses or other harm here attributed to cannabis are actually caused by chronic “heavy use” exposure to that 500-mg-or-bigger Drug cocktail of heat shock, carbon monoxide and 4221 Combustion toxins, the Joint (Blunt, Spliff etc.)–

    and will be AVOIDED once present “heavy use” $mokers have SWITCHED TO VAPORIZER or know how to vape with a Flexdrawtube Einzelhiffer (25-mg-serving-size Screened Single Toke Utensil).

  20. Personal experiences determine the truth, and having the ability to visit the enlightened in Colorado and Washington for a safe chance to experience what authorities claim will change your future, warp your perspective, and cause you to loose your wealth and freedom leaves the future to sandy soil and head hiding par excellence.

  21. What about the effects of tobacco, alcohol and prescription drugs on the brain and every other part of the body?

  22. first we should note that these state worshipers that are funded to provide these studies that are reported by more state worshipers in the media…all have conflicting interests with actually curing our health problems; and that is there all funded by the state that first creates the problems they never intended to solve with alternatives at the discretion of the state for a profit and attempt to prosecute you if you disagree.

  23. Cannabis is anti inflammatory is it not? So maybe the norm is for people to suffer inflammation of the brain, maybe its the carbohydrate rich western diet that does it?

  24. I love how misleading the title is. In the article they state the brains have “reduced brain mass yet increased connections.” They even say flat out in the article “we don’t know if this is a cause or effect of marijuana use” So instead of an article title akin to “Marijuana use potentially increases efficiency of the brain” with zero causation evidence, they go with a sensationalized title they know will catch the attention of most people who won’t bother to read the article and walk away becoming fountains of misinformation.

  25. “all have conflicting interests with actually curing our health problems; and that is there all funded by the state that first creates the problems they never intended to solve with alternatives at the discretion of the state for a profit and attempt to prosecute you if you disagree.”

    In Maryland. Everywhere else you have the first amendment rights to complain about Marijuana Prohibition. You just don’t have to right to exercise your rights by planting, harvesting and lighting up your joints. You’re allowed to talk about having this right, but not actually using it. Talking about rights–Okay. Having rights–not Okay.

  26. Brent says:
    November 13, 2014 at 12:28 am

    what does norml have to say about the UN coming in and ruining our momentum

    There is a movement at the UN Drug organization to end prohibition. It will come out at the next UN meeting on the subject.

  27. Anyone think of the fact that smoking marijuana usually helps lower blood pressure therefore also in theory would mean it slows blood flow therefore less need of pressure which would mean less swelling on capillaries and blood vessels and you guessed it… Organs. Therefore your brain isn’t smaller it’s just low on oil and isn’t expanding due to being low a quart or 2.

    Yes I’m stoned.

  28. President Obama has called an ISIS beheading “an act of pure evil”. I totally agree!!!

    I would add that marijuana prohibition is also an act of pure evil. No good has come from it. A great deal of harm has come from it. It is time for our lawmakers to do the right thing and end this culture war.

  29. I really want to know if the shrinking of the orbital frontal cortex is a good or bad thing. All the data I’ve read online about OFC dysfunction says that it leads to impulsivity, anti-social or obsessive-compulsive behaviors, aggression, Tourette’s syndrome, trichotillomania (the pulling out of hair) and depression. Look at the traditional, almost caricatured behavior of pot smokers: relaxed, non-argumentative, easygoing, non-motivated. If pot smoking caused obsessive-compulsive behavior, you’d think that we’d already have a meme for that. I have MS, and for a time had some compulsive Tourette’s-like behavior as well as some cognitive problems. I attribute my recovery from that to marijuana use.

  30. @Burnout;
    Decreasing blood pressure does not decrease the amount of blood plasma so much as the rate at which one’s heart has to work and the stress that our blood vessels sustain from sustained pressure.
    There are a variety of ways that anxiety stimulates adreline and raises blood pressure. More than an “oil change,” what we need is sleep and an adequate source of cannabinoids in our diet supplemented by a relaxation of this pressure. Without a relaxation of blood pressure at some point during the day, and at especially during sleep, a variety of cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases can occur, depending on one’s physiology and the severity in the lack of nutrients, cannabinoids, play and sleep.

  31. hey, i wonder what smoking would be like when your being blasted with microwaves and what effects that would have on the brain? we should have the media study that one – and then another with just the microwaves vs. people not being blasted with microwaves to get the results of the health hazards of long term and short term exposure before we research and find out the government, military and law enforcement are heavily invested in microwave technology and non lethal weapons.
    they’d probably threaten to shut you down.

  32. The LA Times article contradicts itself, and is completely inconclusive. If the study were anywhere near accurate, they would have been able to determine if an elevated level of grey matter determines whether a person will begin using cannabis, or if people who consume cannabis have increased levels of grey matter – rather than vaguely suggest both are caused by people who use cannabis. The article itself is totally ridiculous, and written in a manner that appears to be focused on spreading misinformation, and causing panic among prohibitionists – and bringing users to the conclusion that their skull is empty, and cognitive skills archaic at best. They have also determined that use of cannabis protects the brain from traumatic injury and allows for recovery, aside from about 1000 other practical uses. This issue has been trivialized for so long. The Shaffer Commission Report findings should be addressed in any House of Reps/Congressional hearing pertaining to cannabis and should be used as a frame of reference for an opening argument. “Nixon, fueled with hate (which you can literally play tapes of) for minorities, hippies, and basically anyone whose demographic stood in opposition to his election – set the stage, not by directly waging a war on these populations through religious or racial persecution, but through an attack on their personal rights, liberties, and freedoms. He choose to criminalize one of the most harmless substances on the planet to further implement a political agenda that would end up being one of the most diabolical, harmful policies ever thought up by an American politician – aside from maybe the Health Maintenance Organization and Resources Development Act of 1973 (Kaiser Permanente – the privatization of Health Care), the Patriot Act (Dissolution of Civil Rights and Liberties) or the Federal Reserve Act of 1912(Banking Cartel organized take over of US Financial System). He decided to wage a war on an intangible opponent, that would allow him to lock up anybody he didn’t like, and anybody who would potentially vote against or oppose him.” – GBH

  33. Something else I found out after a bit of research – cannabis activates the CB2 and CB1 receptors in your body. CB1 gets you high, while CB2 is an anti-inflammatory. Guess what MRI measures – the amount of water in the tissues. So if you’re counting the voxels in the gray matter of cannabis users, it seems logical that their gray matter would appear smaller, as there’s less water in it.

  34. Yeah,the way its phrased makes it seem really grim and exclusive to a certain group of pot smokers.But the two known main culprits that can cause this frontal cortex shrinkage, are simple factors like:stress and lack of sleep.So i guess doctors,nurses,military personal,policeman,night shift workers(anybody that doesn’t get regular sleep) are not immune to this condition. And of course Stress is something that everyone unfortunately experiences in their lifetime to certain degrees.But the main condition that causes frontal cortex shrinking is..(drum roll…

    Aging…You hear that, politicians!

    So, lets learn more details about the “increased connectivity in-between
    certain parts of the brain of marijuana users compared to non-users”.Interesting.

    Alcohol ,tobacco,caffeine, and soybean usage(among other things), can also cause abnormalities in MRI images of the frontal cortex,but you don’t often see that kind of selective coverage on the news.

  35. Maybe they should go back to spraying it with paraquat so they can say it causes Parkinson’s disease. @_@ 2016, initiatives in every state with everyone and their dog in a social media blitzkrieg.

  36. Education is the key to enlightenment. Population control through poisoning environmental exposures and nano interrment will lead a nation of non believers to the precipice of ignorance and self denial.

  37. I noted the statement that the pot smoking group had less IQ than non smokers, which seems to invadilate the study if you’re looking for changes caused by pot.
    I can refute it easily for only $1 million.
    Igor, get 20 non-smoking Drunk while I get 20 smokers from MIT.

    Wonder if there are any diffs in there brains. Yes?
    Guess that proves not smoking pot causes brain damage and stupidity, and the daily pints of Jack Daniels are irrelevant.

    Btw: The UN treaty is BS we pushed on the world with faked evidence and should be ignored by civilized nations as violation of personal sovereignty.

    Basic science says you only have one variable. The people presenting this evidence should have their degrees recalled for intellectual fraud.

  38. Jen,
    Excellent point regarding brain anti-inflammation and MRI measurement of water. It’s often forgot that even complex instruments measure simple things like water.

    I’ve smoked over 40 years, and have BS in engineering and MS in Computer Science, am member of national honor society. Thanks to the herb, I have always wanted to learn more, and taken over 100 audio/online courses in everything from cosmology to quatum physics, history of Africa, Mexico, crusades and religions. American history from inception until today, world history and the rise and fall of nazism and soviet Communism. Philosophy, economic, game theory and more. I understand major tennents of most areas, and when I recently listened to a audio course not heard in two years, I quickly got synced where I could recall upcoming statements. Most of my stoner friends more intelligent than this, and have simply range of interests.

    This study is BS produced by biased “researchers” who must find harm for future grants. The fact that ever study diminishes their credibility, and it usually costs $50 to get copy of reseach means if they ever found something,mno one would believe them. There seems no lie they have no told, and we pay the bill.
    Sorry, I get pissed about corruption of science.

  39. soccer players have a lower iq then non soccer players.You do not see the government trying to outlaw soccer.Any study can be manipulated.

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